Deir Yassin Remembered

Fifty Years On / Stones in an Unfinished Wall

Fifty years on
I am trying to tell the story
of what was lost
before my birth

the story of what was there

before the stone house fell
mortar blasted loose
rocks carted away for new purposes, or smashed
the land declared clean, empty
before the oranges bowed in grief
blossoms sifting to the ground like snow
quickly melting

before my father clamped his teeth
    on the pit of exile
slammed shut the door to his eyes

before tears turned to disbelief
disbelief to anguish
anguish to helplessness
helplessness to rage
rage to despair

before the cup was filled
raised forcibly to our lips

fifty years on
          I am trying to tell the story
          of what we are still losing

I am trying to find a home in history
but there is no more space in the books
for exiles

the arbiters of justice
have no time
for the dispossessed
without credentials

and what good are words
when there is no page
for the story?

the aftersong filters down
like memory
echo of ash
history erased the names
of four hundred eighteen villages
emptied, razed

but cactus still rims the perimeters
emblem of what will not stay hidden

In the Jaffa district alone:

     Abu Kishk
          Bayt Dajan
               Biyar 'Adas
               Ijlil al-Qibliyya
     Ijlil al-Shamaliyya
          al-Jammasin al-Gharbi
     al-Jammasin al-Sharqi
     Kafr 'Ana
     al-Shaykh Muwannis

          all that remains
               a scattering of stones and rubble
               across a forgotten landscape

fifty years on
the words push through
a splintered song
forced out one note
at a time
The immensity of loss
shrouds everything

     in despair
     we seek the particular

     light angling gently
     in single rays

               the houses of Dayr Yasin
               were built of stone, strongly built
               with thick walls

               a girls' school     a boys' school     a bakery
               two guest-houses     a social club     a thrift fund
               three shops     four wells     two mosques

a village of stone cutters
a village of teachers and shopkeepers

an ordinary village
with a peaceful reputation

until the massacre

               carried out without discriminating
               among men and women
               children and old people

in the aftermath
light remembers

light searches out the hidden places
fills every crevice

light peers through windows
slides across neatly swept doorsteps
finds the hiding places of the children

light slips into every place
where the villagers were killed
          the houses, the streets, the doorways
light traces the bloodstains

light glints off the trucks
that carried the men through the streets
like sheep before butchering

light pours into the wells
where they threw the bodies

light seeks out the places where sound
was silenced

light streams across stone
light stops at the quarry

near Qisraya, circa 1938
a fisherman leans forward,
flings his net
across a sea slightly stirred
by wind

to his left
land tumbles
rocky     blurred
to his right
sky is hemmed
by an unclear

(ten years
before the Nakbeh --

the future
already closing

fifty years later
shock still hollows the throats
of those driven out

               without water, we stumbled into the hills

               a small child lay beside the road
               sucking the breast of its dead mother

               outside Lydda
               soldiers ordered everyone
               to throw all valuables onto a blanket

               one young man refused

               almost casually,
               the soldier pulled up his rifle
               shot the man

               he fell, bleeding and dying
               his bride screamed and cried

he fell to the earth
they fell in despair to the earth

the earth held them
the earth soaked up their cries

their cries sank into the soil
filtered into underground streams

fifty springs on
their voices still rise from the earth

fierce as the poppies
that cry from the hills each spring

in remembrance

some stories are told in passing
barely heard in the larger anguish

among those forced out
was a mother with two babies

one named Yasmine
and another
whose name no one remembers
her life so short
even its echo
is forgotten

the nameless child died on the march

it was a time of panic
no one could save a small girl

and so her face crumpled
lost beneath the weight of earth

I know only that she loved the moon
that lying ill on her mother's lap
she cried inconsolably
wanted to hold it in her hands

a child
she didn't know Palestine
would soon shine
as the moon  

the river floods its banks
littering the troubled landscape

we pick our way amid shards
heir to a generation
     that broke their teeth on the bread of exile
     that cracked their hearts on the stone of exile
     necks bent beneath iron keys to absent doors

their lamentations
an unhealed wound

               I was forced to leave my village
               but the village refused to abandon me
                    my blood is there
                    my soul is flying in the sky over the old streets

fifty years on

soul still seeks a sky

the walls were torn down long ago
homes demolished
rebuilding forbidden

but the stones remain

someone dug them from the soil
with bare hands
carried them across the fields

someone set the stones
in place on the terraced slope

someone planted trees,
dug wells

someone still waits in the fields all night
humming the old songs quietly

someone watches stars chip darkness
into dawn

someone remembers
how stone holds dew through the summer night

how stone
waits for the thirsty birds

Lisa Suhair Majaj

The italicized sections of "Fifty Years On/ Stones in an Unfinished Wall" are taken, in most cases verbatim, from various historical and journalistic sources, including Walid Khalidi's All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington D.C: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992), the Deir Yassin OnLine Information Center (, Father Audeh Rantisi's Blessed are the Peacemakers: The History of a Palestinian Christian, and Reuters news reports.

First published in Ripe Guava: Voices of Women of Color (Fall 1999-Spring 2000).

Deir Yassin Remembered

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